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Faculty of Humanities Teaching & Learning Office

Blackboard organisations to support students at programme, discipline and academic community level

Function and purposes

Two main distinctions (that can overlap): programme level spaces and academic community spaces (e.g. at discipline level or wider).

Programme level space

Administration documents and procedures

For on-campus delivery, where the majority of contact is face-to-face, the most useful function of an online programme space may be as a ‘one stop shop’ reference point for School and programme administrative documentation, procedures and guidance information.

Information may be housed elsewhere (e.g. on School intranets) but Blackboard can link to this to ensure that a single source of definitive and up-to-date information is available via the Blackboard programme space. Similarly, some Schools upload documents to Blackboard’s central storage area – the Blackboard repository – as the primary/sole location, and then create links in multiple organisation or course unit spaces to that one single source.

Examples: LLB English Law with French Law, HCRI Global Health

Student support, building a sense of cohort identity

In some cases, a programme space may also provide a vital role supporting students throughout their period of study, no matter which course unit or year they are on, helping to engender and foster a sense of identity/community.

This is essential for distance learning programmes, and is particularly valuable for joint honours students, students studying or working abroad, for those studying part time, and so on.

These may include:

Examples: MA Translation and Interpretation Studies; MA: Digital Technologies and Communications in Education; HCRI Global Health

Fostering core skills, responding to feedback

Students might use a Programme space to try out some of their more core/basic online tasks to familiarise themselves with each other and the technology. A programme space could also be used as a way of responding to feedback (feed forward actions, reflective log, etc).


Academic community spaces (e.g. at discipline or cross-discipline level)

Communication, building a sense of cohort identity

These are often set up to promote communication across a discipline or cross-discipline and to build a sense of cohort identity.

Many academic community spaces use announcements to great effect, giving information on items of interest such as events, topical information and feedback (these announcements being set up so that they also arrive directly to participants’ University email inboxes).

Some academic communities use blogs or discussion boards, and some include links to practical guidance and subject specific resource lists (e.g. extensive list of online history resources; guidance on archaeology field work; downloadable music scores). Some provide links to external student groups or societies (e.g. Facebook groups, University student societies).

Examples: History Student Portal, Music Community, Archaeology Community


Across both Programmes and Academic communities

Study skills, academic advisement, careers guidance, resources

Both programme and academic community spaces may include sections on study skills, academic advisement, careers guidance and resources.

The School of Law has developed extensive academic advisement support via Blackboard; the Careers Service is keen to integrate their guidance and resources into online Blackboard spaces. And Blackboard organisations can include links to the Library's online study skills resources 'My Learning Essentials' that they developed recently.

Note: Some programme and discipline areas (e.g. MA:DTCE, Sociology, Geography) are revising how best to deliver study skills, and are considering establishing core course units rather than providing materials within their organisation spaces. In such cases, the Organisation space can provide a direct link to the relevant course unit.

Examples: Residence Abroad, LLB English Law with French Law programme, Archaeology UG Community


Peer-to-peer communication

Many programme spaces aspire to use Blackboard for peer-to-peer communication – they often provide or contain a 'virtual' common room – however, student uptake can often be low. Some reasons for this:

However, Blackboard programme spaces can provide an area for bottom-up input: areas can be created for student reps' activities, including links to Student Union. Some organisations include blog postings by academics and/or by students: for example, from those taking part in study trips.


PG Research and Blackboard

Programme spaces can be particularly appropriate for research degrees: where student communities are more disperse, or off campus altogether, an online Common Room as a Blackboard organisation may provide a good solution to student needs.

Research degrees have common parameters and student needs that are quite different from campus taught degrees:

Given these circumstances, Organisation spaces may be an ideal vehicle for fostering collaborative approaches and promoting PG research communities, increasing a sense of cohort and personalisation.